It’s all about connection.
When SOCAN organized its first-ever annual Kenekt song camp at the Shobac Cottages in rural Nova Scotia in September of 2015, the goal was to have the talented group of songwriters and producers assembled there connect creatively with each other – and, in the process, come up with material capable of connecting with a wide audience. That mandate was fulfilled, and the personal connections cemented amongst the attendees seem destined to pay dividends in their careers.
To get their take on the experience at the camp, and the songs that came out of it, Words & Music spoke with young singer-songwriters Sophie Rose and Levi Randall, and fast-rising production/songwriting duo Young Wolf Hatchlings.
A compelling singer, 16-year-old, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sophie Rose (left) has been making songwriting her top priority since signing a joint publishing deal with Prescription Songs and noted songwriter Ester Dean two years ago. Prescription have pitched Rose’s camp songs to such artists as Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Pia Mia, and Hailee Steinfeld. Since her publishing deal, a song Rose wrote, sang and produced by herself, “Friends Forever,” was featured in a national MasterCard Stand Up To Cancer commercial. When asked to come up with a theme song for the Awesomeness TV-produced show Guidance, Rose wrote the very well-received song, “Attention.”
For Rose, the opportunity to join the Kenekt camp came out of nowhere. “I met SOCAN’s Chad Richardson [Kenekt’s organizer] here [in L.A.], and he invited me to the camp,” she says. “My first reaction was ‘Nova Scotia is so far away, I’m not going there.’ But Chad told me, ‘If you go, this will change your life.’ I couldn’t say no to that. And yes, it has [changed my life].”
Rose had previously attended a songwriting camp in L.A., but says “that was just two days in a studio. That’s not the same as going somewhere else, to an environment like that.”
The Kenekt camp’s scenic physical setting and its collaborative approach certainly set creative juices flowing for Rose. “I didn’t bring any ideas with me to the camp but I was so inspired there,” she says. “Every night after the song we wrote was played for everybody, I’d have new ideas for the next day.”
“I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.” – Sophie Rose
The interactive format pleased her. “So many times in L.A., you write a song and send it to a producer and it’s not the kind of experience you hope for,” says Rose. “I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.”
She cites the writing of “Take My Breath” as an example. “I had the verse idea late the night before,” she says. “I recorded it into my phone and brought it. We worked off that, and the rest of the song was completely collaborative. I wrote it with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Dave Thomson, all sitting on the couch, brainstorming ideas and titles. When I played it that evening, Chad went, ‘This is a hit. Send it to your publisher now.’ I sent it that night and got an immediate reply that they loved it. They have sent it to lots of people for possible placement.”
Another camp-created composition for which Rose has high hopes is “Hands High.” “That was my favourite writing process of the camp,” she says. “I wrote it with Fredro and David Myles. We didn’t have anything beforehand, it all came from nothing. Fredro built this really crazy drumbeat, and we wrote the whole song over the beat, with no instruments.”
The creative chemistry between Myles and Rose has led to further writing. “A few weeks after the camp, David played a showcase show at the Capitol building here [in L.A.],” she says. “Chad and I and our moms all went, and the next day David came over and we wrote a new song together.” Since camp, Rose has also written with Fredro, Levi Randall, Heather Longstaffe, and Young Wolf Hatchlings. “When YWH visited L.A. after the camp, I started a new song with them and another writer I work with here, Jackie Young,” she says.
LEVI RANDALL (VACAY)
Also attending Kenekt was Toronto-based singer-songwriter and actor Levi Randall (left), who now records and performs under the name Vacay. He previously fronted Cardinals and The Juliets, pop-rock outfits that toured nationally and gained a following.
Randall is now forging a solo path, and he, too, terms the Kenekt experience “life-changing” in this pursuit. “That was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences,” he says. “I can’t thank SOCAN and Chad enough for taking a chance on me.”
Two songs he co-wrote at the camp are definitely set to appear on an upcoming solo EP due by the summer of 2016. “Shaky Hands” is a co-write with David Thomson and David Myles, while “The Other Side” was written with Carole Facal (Caracol) and Drew Scott. “Both songs fit the direction in which I’m going,” says Randall. “I’ve already recorded both, and I’m getting Drew and Carole to add background vocals to ‘The Other Side.’”
The other three songs on the Vacay EP will be solo originals. “On your own you can really think long and hard on a song,” says Randall, “but I also like co-writing, for bringing another perspective to the music and lyrics.”
“The Kenekt Song Camp was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences.” – Levi Randall
Randall’s growing profile as a TV actor will help bring his music attention. He appeared on the hit TV show The Next Step and has landed a lead acting role on the music-themed series Lost & Found Music Studios. Having premiered on Canada’s Family Channel in January, it goes worldwide via Netflix in May of 2016. “That’ll be great exposure,” says Randall. “I hope it means fans of the show will stick around for my music. I’m proud of the show, but think there needs to be separation from my acting and my music, and that’s why I came up with the Vacay name.”
Since Kenekt, Randall has written again with Drew Scott and also Ash Koley. “I learned so many things at camp,” he says. “When writing with Anjulie [Persaud], I learned about having vulnerability in your lyrics. We can get caught up in trying to sound cool, but I learned it’s cool to be vulnerable. Music is not about being cool, it’s about connecting with people.”
Randall stresses that “I definitely feel more like a musician than an actor. I love acting, but not with the same amount of passion. I see it as a stepping stone for my ultimate goal, writing songs that move people.” If those are songs performed by other artists, that’d be fine by him. “Most of the songs I co-wrote at camp don’t fit what I’m doing, so it’d be great if other people picked them up,” he says.
YOUNG WOLF HATCHLINGS
Young Wolf Hatchlings had also achieved a measure of success before the camp. The Toronto-based production and writing duo of Jarrel Young (left) and Waqaas Hashmi had a huge crossover success in 2015, when American rockers Fall Out Boy scored a double-platinum hit single with “Uma Thurman,” a track YWH co-wrote with the band. Young Wolf Hatchlings also scored a 2015 MuchMusic Video Award nomination for “You Lovely You,” a single they released on Universal Canada.
But for YWH, Kenekt was nonetheless their first song camp, and Young now describes it as one of the greatest musical experiences of his life. “It’s an extremely friendly but also a semi-competitive environment,” says Young. “Each night, everyone got together and played what they came up with that day. I’d consider us the least experienced of the producers there, and we wanted to do well in front of those people. Every day we pushed to do our best.”
Young cites the beautiful physical setting as an inspiration, along with the fact that “all you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed… The greatest take-away was the confidence of knowing we can push ourselves past what we thought we were capable of.” The truly collaborative process appealed to Young and Hashmi. “I personally like working in the room with artists, getting things together,” says Young. “That’s where we’ve had the most success and we’ve tried to reproduce that after the camp.”
“All you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed.” – Jarrel Young of Young Wolf Hatchlings
On the tangible side, YWH emerged with three strong cuts. “Where Ever You Are” is a co-write with Caracol and Sophie Rose. “We’ve been shopping it around for placements,” says Young. “We have faith it can be used somewhere, as it’s a great song with a great message.” “91 Days” is a co-write with Myles and Anjulie Persaud that Young says “will likely be on the EP following the one we release in the Spring of 2016. The song has such an energy.” A collaboration with Fitzgerald and Koley, “Stay True,” will be released as a single on Ultra. “That one came so naturally,” says Young. “You have Michael rapping on the song, yet he’s primarily a folk singer.”
Young Wolf Hatchlings also enjoyed the post-camp collaboration with Sophie Rose. “We’re really excited about the material,” says Young. “Sophie is such a mature talent, and it was great to be in a different environment and see how she does her stuff.
“In my opinion those songs [from the camp] have helped jump-start our career, in the sense of having songs that can cross over,” says Young. “For EDM producers such as ourselves, they’ve opened a lot of doors. Not just for our career, but for ourselves – as it shows we can be freer, making music that can cross over to mainstream.”
The songs and creative bonds forged at SOCAN’s Kenekt Song Camp promise to yield all sorts of significant results in the years to come. Stay tuned!